Oracle vs. Google Overview

Hello blogosphere! As you’ve probably noticed I’ve been absent for awhile. I’ve been spending the past few weeks taking a break from the typical daily routine – so my blogging schedule has gotten off schedule, but maybe now that classes are starting back I’ll be able to jump back into my daily routine. So, at this point I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention the latest drama in the technology world: the lawsuit between Oracle and Google. That’s right, there’s another lawsuit. This time, it’s over a little thing called Java and to explain why – it is time for a history lesson. More after the jump!

Java isn’t just coffee…

As everyone in the Information Technology knows, Java is a programming language that was developed by Sun Microsystems in the mid-1990’s. Today, Java is considered one of the standard programming language in the industry and everyone who graduates from a Computer Science program worth throwing a stick at is required to know it. All in all, Java is a major slam dunk by Sun Microsystems.

Part of the reason why Java is such a success is that, as programming languages go, it is one of the easiest to work with. Anyone with experience with a systems-level programming language like C will tell a Java programmer to count their blessings. Java programs are also “safe” in the sense that no Java program is able to crash another Java program. This is accomplished through the use of something called a Java Virtual Machine that serves as a container for each Java application.

As with all things in Computing, it is not uncommon for one company to think they can do something better than another company. This has lead to the development of over Java Virtual Machines besides the Sun Microsystems JVM. Apple has implemented their own JVM for use on their Mac computers, and Google implemented their own JVM for use on Android.

Here beginith the drama.

Thursday Oracle, a major technology company that acquired Java developer and owner Sun Microsystems earlier this year, sued Google over their Java Virtual Machine, Dalvik.

Don’t get any dirt in a clean room.

In the fast-paced world of computing, this practice is not uncommon. A lot of todays popular technologies are based on clones of previous technologies and ideologies. This is done using the concept of “clean room development.” The idea of clean room development allows a company to clone a technology without infringing on any intellectual property of the company that originally developed the technology.

Whenever a lawsuit like this appears, the first questions that are going to be asked are about practices the defendant used to develop their clone. In this situation, Oracle is going to want to see proof that Google did not directly use Oracle programming as a reference for the Google JVM. Instead, Google will be required to show that they first used one team to create a specification for how the Oracle JVM worked, then had that reviewed by a lawyer, and then wrote their code off of the specification they developed – instead of directly off of the other code.

To be honest, I don’t see Google being stupid enough to neglect this protocol. What is more likely to be the issue at hand is whether or not Google could in fact form a “clean room.” There are people at Google like Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, who were employed by Sun Microsystems while they were in the process of first developing Java in the 1990’s. Without a doubt, Schmidt will have had some inside knowledge of the techniques Sun Microsystems used in their implementation of Java.

Quite frankly, if I were Google – I would be nervous if Schmidt had any direct involvement with the development of the Dalvik JVM. Google’s only hope in this issue is that they were conscious of the potential inside knowledge Schmidt could have had, and used some method of documentation to show that no inside understanding of Sun technology was used to improve the performance of the Dalvik JVM.

There have been a lot of lawsuits recently, and I’ve responded to most of them with an attitude of distain because I believe a lot of them are a question of well-dated patents being used to claim ownership to innovations made by other people. What we see here is a completely different situation. Many people have been using this lawsuit to open the question of whether or not Software Patents should be allowed on the basis that they hinder innovation. I’ll let that sit for another post, but what I will say for now is that with the way the law is written today, I feel that Oracle has a strong case against Google.

I’m the last person that wants to see Android suffer, but I, like many others, will be following this case closely in the coming months.